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ATAS

ATAS

ATAS

ATAS

ATAS

International students who want to study and research at an advanced level within certain ‘sensitive’ subject areas must obtain UK government clearance under the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) unless their nationality is exempt. You must obtain ATAS clearance before you can apply for your visa, and will usually need to apply for new ATAS clearance any time that you extend your study period in the UK. Your application is made to a UK government department called the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) who will decide your application. This is a different government department from the Home Office who will later decide your UK visa application - they are not linked.

Further information is available on the government’s ATAS website, but we have answered some key questions below.

ATAS requirements and exemptions

As explained on the government’s website ATAS clearance is required for ‘subjects and research areas […] where knowledge could be used in programmes to develop Advanced Conventional Military Technology (ACMT), weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or their means of delivery.’ In practice, if you are coming to study a postgraduate programme at Exeter in Computer Science, Biosciences, Engineering, or Physics, there is a good chance that ATAS clearance will be required for your programme. This includes some integrated Masters programmes such as the MEng.

This will be listed clearly on your conditional or unconditional offer letter. If you will be studying a research programme such as an MPhil/PhD, your offer letter will also include a research statement which is a required part of your ATAS application. Some students are exempt from the ATAS clearance requirement based on their nationality, in which case your offer letter will not list an ATAS requirement. 

The full list of exempt nationalities is here: ATAS exempt nationalities 

Unless you are exempt based on your nationality (see above) or have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, you will need to apply for ATAS clearance. This includes, for example, people with dependant, family, or skilled worker visas. It also includes people studying short term on visitor visas, including those who will have visitor permission granted on entry to the UK. 

No, CAS cannot be issued until your ATAS clearance has been granted. This is a UK government requirement. 

Applying for ATAS

ATAS applications are free and made online to the FCDO. Further information about how to apply is here: Academic Technology Approval Scheme (gov.uk). The online application form is here: ATAS: Apply. Make sure to also read the rest of these FAQs as they answer common questions about the application process.

The usual processing time is 20 working days (approximately 4 weeks), but this can increase to 30 working days (6 weeks) or more between April and September. We recommend that you apply as soon as you have firmly accepted your offer. You can apply for ATAS clearance while you hold a conditional offer if you wish to. 

If you will be studying a course at Exeter, including an MPhil or PhD course or as a Visiting Postgraduate Research Student, you must choose 'Taught/Research Student’. If you apply for ATAS clearance as a Researcher, your ATAS certificate will not be valid and you will need to reapply as a Student which will cause considerable delays. 

There are a few key things that you will need to prepare: 

  • Research statement or list of modules: If you will be studying a research programme such as an MPhil/PhD, your research statement will be included on your offer letter. You will be asked to input this statement as part of your ATAS application. If you are studying a Masters programme (including an integrated Masters), you will need to provide a list of modules instead. Find your course here: Postgraduate courses. On the page for your course, choose the ‘Course content’ section for a list of modules. 

  • Supervisor: If you will be studying an MPhil/PhD, you should list the lead supervisor for your programme. Ensure that you include their full first and last name. Your supervisor details are included in your offer letter. If you will be studying a Masters programme, you will not have a supervisor. You should list your head of department first. Find your department here: Our departments. Then visit the ‘People’ section to find the name of the head of your department. 

  • Referees: This is very important and an area which often delays ATAS applications. You must include 2 referees that you have known for over 3 years, one of whom should be an academic referee. ATAS advises that referees from your home country are strongly preferable but it is not essential if you have studied and/or worked in another country. You must include their full first and last names not just initials (e.g. Dr Sarah Smith not Dr S Smith). We regularly see ATAS applications returned because full names are not included for referees. 

  • Passport: Please ensure that you have a valid passport. If your passport has expired, you will need to wait until you have renewed it to apply for ATAS. 

This is the code that tells the FCDO that you are on an ATAS programme. It will be listed on your offer letter and you must include it in your ATAS application. Take care when entering the code as if it is incorrect, your ATAS clearance will not be valid and you will need to reapply. If there is no code listed on your offer letter, it is likely that you do not require ATAS clearance, either because of your programme or nationality. 

Problems and troubleshooting

Unfortunately, ATAS applications are sometimes refused. Because of the sensitive nature of ATAS clearance, the FCDO will not reveal the reasons for an ATAS refusal to you or to the University. You will not usually be refused due to an error in your application – in that case, your application will simply be returned to you to complete again. Actual refusals are more serious and in most cases, reapplying for ATAS clearance following a refusal will not be successful and you will not be able to undertake your planned study at Exeter. 

The FCDO will not respond to requests for a progress update until your application has been outstanding for at least 20 working days (sometimes 30 working days during busy periods). If your application is returned with a request for further information, that will re-set the clock and you may need to wait 20 working days from the date that you submit the requested information. If you have been waiting longer than 20 working days, the University can contact the FCDO for you to check on progress. Because of the sensitive nature of ATAS, the University does not have influence over this process, we are only allowed to contact the FCDO via email for an update. They are not contactable by students or the University by phone. Please include your ATAS reference number and the dates/details of any communication you have had with ATAS (e.g. requests to amend sections of your application form) in your email to us. 

If you have made a mistake on your application form, you can contact International Student Support and we will advise whether or not this is a problem and what you can do to fix it. If you have applied for the wrong type of ATAS clearance (e.g. Researcher instead of Student), then you must make a new ATAS application immediately, you cannot change your outstanding application and any ATAS clearance granted will not be valid for your programme.

After ATAS is granted

No, your ATAS certificate is valid just for the course, research topic (if relevant), and University that you specified in your ATAS application. If you decide to take up a different offer, you will have to reapply for ATAS clearance.

If your course dates change by more than 3 months, the FCDO does not allow the University to accept your previous ATAS certificate as their decision to grant ATAS clearance was based on your original dates. If your course dates change by less than 3 months, it is likely that your ATAS clearance will still be valid, as long as it is the same course. If you are an MPhil/PhD or Visiting Postgraduate Research Student and wish to change your start date, you will need to contact the PGR Admissions team.

If your course dates have changed by more than 3 months, you will need to apply for new ATAS clearance. You will need to do this even if you do not need to apply for a new visa. If the change in your dates means that you will need to apply for a new visa within the next 3 months, we recommend that you contact International Student Support as soon as possible for advice on the dates to list on your ATAS application.